Of course, now we're slipping into so majorly boring legal mumbo jumbo. We'll keep this short, sweet, and in plain English. I will also make the early disclaimer that you should, as with all legal matters, consult a legal professional regarding your specific circumstances.
When do you need it?
In fact, in some states it's even a law and that law even applies to you if you don't live in that state. Yes, it's true. California's Online Privacy and Protection Act of 2003 (layman's explanation available here) reaches far outside that state's borders to include any business that collects personal information from California residents.
Even Google requires one if you are using the Google AdSense service for advertising on your website.
Where can you get one?
"I promise not to sell your email address to spammers or anything like that.
That’s the gist of it, but maybe someday I’ll get around to adding some official-looking legal-ese that no one will ever read."
For myself, I went with something in between. You're welcome to use mine, too. However, please remember (legal disclaimer coming) that I am not your legal counsel. Nor am I a lawyer. I'm not even an expert on the legal system (except I do have a lot of experience paying parking tickets.) So to make sure you are on the up and up, I highly recommend that you check with your legal adviser.
When do you need it?
If you are getting paid -- via money, free product samples, or any other form of compensation -- for the content on your website, you need one. Because of compensation, your opinion or articles could be viewed as having a slight bias. A disclosure statement allows your readers to know exactly how you are compensated and how that affects your articles and services.
In fact, it's not just the State of California saying it this time. You're in the big leagues now and the Federal Trade Commission has stepped in to put their stamp on it. In March of 2013 they updated their .com Disclosures document to include their latest rules as well as some very detailed examples. It's short -- only 53 pages (yes, that's short for the government) -- and has lots of photos. It's definitely worth a read.
In addition, the FTC's 2009 document Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising is also worth a read. It's only 12 pages but there are no pictures (sorry ... just lots and lots of text.)
A few (paraphrased) highlights of the two documents include:
- Don't make direct product claims that you are unwilling to legally support. For example, don't claim that a skin care product cures eczema. You might be liable if it doesn't. Let the manufacturer make those claims. You should just reveal your experiences (and reveal that you received a free sample or other compensation if you did.)
- Reveal your compensation early. Don't bury that tidbit deep at the bottom of your post. It seems (from my non-lawyerly perspective) that a brief statement early ("Today I'll be reviewing the new Widget 9000 from Widgets 'R' Us. I received a complimentary Widget 9000 which I received from ...")
- Make is "Clear and Conspicuous." Don't try to hide the fact or use fancy symbols or unclear terminology. Be open and up front and everyone (specifically the FTC) will be happy.
- Even in "space constrained" endorsements such as tweets on Twitter, you must make your relationship clear.
Where can you get one?
DisclosurePolicy.org offers a free service that will help you generate a disclosure policy that meets your specific needs.
But according to blogger Kelly Diels (via ProBlogger.com), you can make your disclosure your own by writing a statement that addresses the five basic elements of a disclosure statement:
- Speak to the occasion (the FTC, your recent conviction for moneylaundering, what have you)
- Say a little something about your blog and how you make money (credibility)
- Say a little something about your ethics (trust, lawsuit-avoidance)
- Explain the consequences thereof for you (likeability, trust, message)
- Explain the consequences for the reader (likeability, advancing your story)
Be sure an read Kelly's full article (linked above.) It's a great read and gives excellent examples of people owning their disclosure statements. I rewrote my disclosure statement after reading her article.
The Quick Takeaway
If you're being compensated for your opinions on website or blog, you need a disclosure statement. Using Kelly Diels' approach above, you might just have a little fun while writing it.